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Russia Backs UAC to Expand Airliner Product Range

 - February 15, 2016, 1:10 AM
Production of the Il-114 regional turboprop may be restarted if the Russian government has its way.

Russia’s government has given approval for United Aircraft Corporation (UAC, Stand J39, Chalet CD41) to press ahead with series production of the new Ilyushin Il-96-400M widebody. In December, it instructed the state-owned group’s VASO factory in Voronezh to boost its annual production rate to eight per year.

The move, confirmed in December, is part of a Kremlin move to reduce the dependence of the country’s air transport industry on foreign aerospace equipment at a time of mounting tensions with the West. It also comes as UAC is undergoing a further restructuring in a bid to be more competitive in difficult market conditions (see below).

Equipped with more fuel-efficient new powerplant, the new four-engined -400M now appears to be viewed as a more attainable and affordable alternative to the government-backed plans for the Russian and Chinese industries to jointly develop a new widebody. Plans for the Il-96-400M were first disclosed in November 2015 when Ilyushin general designer Nikolai Talikov addressed an aviation conference in Ulyanovsk.

The new model is a follow-on from the early Il-86 and Il-96-300/400 families, the main innovation being the replacement of the existing Aviadvigatel PS-90A1 turbofans with new PS-14Ms. The Perm-based engine maker developed the 14-metric-ton-thrust (30,864-pounds) PS-14 for Irkut’s MC-21 narrowbody and is now able to offer an uprated 16-metric-ton-thrust (35,273 pounds) M version (initially developed for the new Il-214-based military airlifter being developed by Russia and India).

According to UAC, the PS-14M turbofan will make give the Il-96-400M comparable direct operating costs to the twin-engined Airbus A330-300 and the Boeing 777-200. Eventually, the airframer hopes to be able to offer a twinjet version of the Il-96, assuming Aviadvigatel can fulfill its desire to develop a 35-metric-ton-thrust (77,160 pounds) PD-35 turbofan. Preparatory work for this program is based on the core of the NK32-2 engine that powers Tupolev’s Tu-160 bomber.

UAC is looking to exploit the more competitive pricing for Russian-made parts resulting from the falling value of the ruble currency since 2014. It also is committed to reducing maintenance requirements and costs.

Initially, the new Il-96s are largely expected to go into military service, for which they could fill a variety of applications, including surveillance and long-range air tankering. The Russian government is expected to urge Russian airlines to also invest in the new model. Cuba’s Cubana de Aviacion is currently the only carrier operating the Il-96-300, and VASO has been making the 160-seater at a rate of barely one per year.

New Regional Turboprop

Meanwhile, the Russian government also has urged UAC and its subsidiaries Ilyushin and NAZ Sokol to resume production of the 64-seat Il-114 twin turboprop regional airliner. This week, Russian civil aviation authority Rosaviatsiya is staging a conference to determine levels of demand for the model.

The State Scientific Research Institute of Civil Aviation estimates the size of the Russian market at 230 large turboprops through 2034, plus maybe another 70 aircraft for military use. According to UAC, this would be sufficient demand to merit the resumption of production.

The final decision has yet to be taken, but it is expected that the Kremlin may go so far as to restrict domestic sales of foreign turboprops, such as the ATR72, in order to bolster demand for the aircraft, which until 2012 were built by the TAPO factory in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Another prospective competitor is the Chinese Comac Modern Arc family, about which there have even been discussions over possible Russian production.

Currently there is only one Il-114 operating in Russia and this is used by avionics group Radar-MMS as a flying testbed. Uzbekistan Airways has seven of the type in its fleet, with these being the -100 version, featuring Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127H engines, as well as Rockwell Collins avionics and other Western equipment. The current standard Il-114 is powered by the Russian Klimov TV7-117SM turboprops, but UAC plans to adopt the new -117ST engines that have been developed for the Il-112V military transport.

The initial plan is for UAC’s NAZ Sokol factory in Nizhny Novgorod to assemble the new Il-114s from kits provided by TAPO, and also to restore existing aircraft now in storage to operational standards. The first of the new batch is expected to be ready to enter service in the middle of 2018.

The Russian government has committed to providing 27 billion rubles ($338 million) to support the program through the 2016-2022 timeframe. These funds would be available through federal funding to support engineering work and investment in manufacturing equipment. UAC has indicated that total investment in the production relaunch would be around $220 million.

According to UAC, the Il-114 burns between 520 kg and 550 kg (1,146 pounds to 1,213 pounds) of fuel per hour, which it says makes it competitive with the ATR72 (the published figure for the ATR 72 in cruise is 584 kg, or 1,287 lbs). According to Talikov, Uzbekistan Airways uses its aircraft up to 1,800 flight hours per month.

One factor behind the planned relaunch of the Il-114 is that licensed production of the 52-seat Antonov An-140 was recently discontinued. This followed the refusal of Ukrainian companies, including Antonov, to supply components and parts to their Russian partners.

The Il-114 achieved type certification in 1997. UAC does intend to make changes to the position of wing consoles with a view to improving yaw and bank stability at slow speeds. This would allow the maximum 40-degree flap deflection (compared with 20 degrees for the existing aircraft), significantly reducing approach speeds and so requiring less landing distance. The new aircraft would also feature electrically-powered anti-icing systems and some improvements to the cockpit.

More UAC Restructuring

The relaunch of Il-114 production is part of wider strategic changes announced by UAC president Yuri Slyusar. As it grapples with the impact of Russia’s economic downturn, and the drop in value of the ruble on currency markets, the group is looking to “strengthen cooperation with other manufacturers, including foreign ones, to open UAC production facilities to the most capable partners. Through further outsourcing, the company says it expects to reduce the number of final assembly plants in the process.

In other reforms, UAC is establishing five new divisions, responsible for “commercial, combat, transport, special purpose aviation, as well as for aircraft maintenance and support.” In addition to Ilyushin, the group combines design bureau brands such as Sukhoi, MiG and Tupolev. Its most advanced aircraft program is the PAK FA fifth generation T-50 fighter, for which two new prototypes are set to begin flight testing soon to evaluate combat mode performance and weaponry integration and use.

Already in production is the Superjet SSJ100 narrowbody airliner. This program has benefitted from around $500 million in government funds released to the State Transport Leasing Company to support sales to operators such as Yamal Airlines, which is to get 25 aircraft, and Kazakhstan-based SCAT, which has 15 on order, plus 5 options.